If you have any interest in safe-guarding the tax advantages of our township, your time is running out. And if you feel that nothing can be done, just look back over the last few months. You may recall that the Lower Merion school board planned to increase your taxes by 14.3 percent. But, after being confronted by a handful of concerned citizens who believe that you can and should have great schools responsibly, they reduced the increase to 10.8 percent.
The board says they were able to reduce the increase because of new legislation that "permits" the Harriton construction debt to be spread over two years. But, there has never been anything that prohibited spreading the debt. According to business manager Scott Shaffer, that is the "preferred method" and "the way we have done it in the past." The real story was that the board was afraid that new legislation would require a voter referendum in the future and so they were willing to incur all the debt in one year at added cost to the taxpayers to prevent the citizens from having a say. Lucky for them, that legislation never came, because incurred debt in the form of construction contracts was excluded from the Act 1 referendum trigger. The lesson: concerned citizens can and do make a difference. But not if they remain silent.
So why is time running out? The last step before the district can advertise construction contracts is an Act 34 hearing. The Act 34 hearing for the new Harriton project is on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at Harriton High School. The purpose of this hearing is to give members of the community one last chance to state their support for or opposition to the project being built without referendum. If you think that the citizens of Lower Merion should have a say in the first $98 million in contracts for a construction program that the board currently estimates at $238 million, then you must go to this hearing and ask for a referendum.
The hearing is not about whether or not we need two new high schools. It's about the amount we are getting ready to spend without any real input from the community. The current board is spending too much money on the wrong things, with no gain in education quality for our children. Two years ago, this board said two schools would cost $150 million. But no matter the price, this board will stop at nothing to do what it says it was elected to do; build two new schools (by the way, if you don't recall having a choice during the last school board election, I will be happy to explain to you why you didn't; all those "elected," ran unopposed).
.....Let me give you an example of how this board has pushed its agenda. In the June 2006 edition of The District Digest, Superintendent Savedoff states that: "The Pennsylvania Dept. of Education's guidelines for new high school construction require an initial 35 acres + 1 additional acre for every 100 students. In order to construct a single school of suitable size for all LMSD students (combining Harriton and Lower Merion High school populations), the District would need a property totaling 61 acres (35 acres + 26 acres to accommodate the projected enrollment of 2600 students at the high schools). Harriton, the larger of the two current high school sites, has a total area of only 50 acres. The District could acquire additional property through eminent domain, but the costs and potential delays could be prohibitive."
But, while this may sound compelling, it is simply not true. The PA Dept. of Ed. has only one such regulation, but it actually says the opposite. Specifically, Chapter 349.7 of the PDE School Building Standards, entitled Approval of Sites, states: "(a) Approvable size. Usable acreage as follows shall be considered optimum:
elementary schools - 10 acres; schools for middle grades - 20 acres, schools for high school grades - 35 acres" and the regulation goes on to state two conditions as follows: "(1) In general, maximum approvable site sizes shall be the stated optimum, plus one acre for each 100 full-time equivalent students in projected enrollment. (2) Minimum approvable site sizes shall consider factors related to land availability, proximate shared use land, and other reasonable considerations."
.....Now is the time for you to get involved. Come to the Act 34 hearing on Sept. 21, or submit written comments to PDE and the board. The Board tells us it's doing what we want it to do. If that is the case, a referendum vote will prove them right. For more information on this topic as well as other information that the Lower Merion School Board is not sharing with you, visit www.lmsd.info
Click HERE for full text (it's a big 'un)